One open mike night simply wasn’t enough. I had to do it again. This time I read at the Manitoba Writers’ Guild/ Writers’ Union of Canada holiday mingle event, this past Wednesday evening.
My friend, mentor, critique group name sake, and holiday mingle organiser, Anita Daher, suggested I come out to mix, mingle, and read a piece of my work. I survived my last public reading, so I thought, “Why not?”
And, I reasoned, I need to network with other writers. After all, it’s “not what you know, it’s who you know.” Right?
I knew the reading time limit was three minutes, so I practised throughout the day. Not to make sure I could squeeze it all in; my chapter was short, the dialogue quick and snappy, but because I am by nature a speed talker. When worked up, my speech is almost comical. I say almost, because I do have some pride. Thus, I practised slowing down, so my three minute section didn’t condense itself into a one minute rant of rapid-fire, squirrel-speak.
Naturally I arrived 30 minutes early, so I wouldn’t have to rush in at the last minute all disoriented and jumbled. Of course I parked in front of the wrong building, which I realised with only 5 minutes to spare. I drove my rusty van, a la Dukes of Hazard, and careened through the streets of The Old Market Square, hastily parking with two wheels on the curb.
“Meh,” I pondered briefly, “They won’t give me a ticket for parking too close to the curb, will they?”
I raced to the building, found the correct meeting room, and introduced myself to as many fellow writers as possible. We had lively conversations about writing, conferences, and our publishing histories. I did it. I networked!
Sadly, I can’t remember a single name. I blame the panic that over took my brain when I realised I was in a room crammed full of published authors. And not just any published authors. Most of these authors wrote poetry, literary fiction and as my writing pal, Gabe helpfully pointed out, these writers wrote for the “A word.” Yes, you guessed it - adults. Gulp. This is the point where I commenced with Lamaze-style shallow breathing.
Flooded with a sense of foreboding, I scurried to the microphone when Anita called my name. I death-gripped my folio and swallowed every nervous thought. Would they like my young adult novel? Would they find it trivial or amateurish in comparison to their own writing? Taking a deep breath, I began reading my first paragraph as follows:
Panic. Disbelief. Denial. Humiliation.
No, No, No! This can’t be happening. This can not be happening!
And then I heard it. My words connected with my audience. My last line hung in the air, as a woman at the back of the room crashed to the floor. She passed out. Not once, but twice.
Was it that bad, I worried, that she lost her senses? Oh, yeah and is she okay?
When the paramedics arrived they clarified it wasn’t my words that knocked her out cold, but the Hawaii-hot room temperature.
Once the ambulance whisked her away, we opened a half dozen windows, and milled around for a few moments until Anita, our thoughtful hostess, returned to the mike. I figured she’d call it a day, but no, it was back to business and she called me up to finish.
Although I was full of trepidation, I got up to read again. I scanned the faces staring back at me, looking for the weakest link. Who would fall next? They all seemed solidly settled in their seats, with friendly (and healthy) smiles, so with hands shaking and gut churning, I began again.
Honestly, I don’t remember reading and I couldn’t hear anything over the echo of my pounding heart. I was too focused on keeping my pace from slipping into the speedy rodent-zone.
So, how did it go?
Gabe and Anita said everyone laughed in all the right places and for a bunch of talented poets and writers of the “A word”, what else could I ask for? Oh, and most importantly no one else was rendered unconscious.
Sweet, sweet success.
P.S. And yes, the fallen writer was quickly released from hospital with simple heat exhaustion and a minor case of embarrassment.